US treasury dept knew of IRS inquiry in 2012: Official

The new information came as part of a routine briefing of the investigations.

Written by New York Times | Washington | Published: May 18, 2013 3:55 am

Jonathan Weisman

The Treasury Department’s inspector-general told senior Treasury officials in June 2012 he was investigating allegations that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had targeted conservative groups,disclosing for the first time on Friday that Obama administration officials were aware of the matter during the presidential campaign year.

At the first Congressional hearing into the IRS scandal,J Russell George,the Treasury inspector-general for tax administration,told members of the House Ways and Means Committee that he informed the Treasury’s general counsel of his investigation on June 4,and Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin “shortly thereafter”. The new information came as part of a routine briefing of the investigations that the inspector-general would be conducting in the forthcoming year,and he did not tell officials of his conclusions that the targeting had been improper,he said.

Still,George’s testimony will most likely fuel efforts by Congressional Republicans to show that Obama administration officials knew of efforts to single out conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for additional scrutiny,but did not reveal that knowledge during President Obama’s re-election campaign.

Representative Paul Ryan,Republican of Wisconsin who joined the Republican ticket as the vice-presidential candidate later in the year,said,“That raises a big question.”

Representative Dave Camp of Michigan,the House Ways and Means chairman,said in opening the hearing,“This appears to be just the latest example of a culture of cover-ups — and political intimidation — in this administration. It seems like the truth is hidden from American people just long enough to make it through an election.”

The hearing quickly turned into partisan jousting,with House Republicans pressing to expand the inquiry to other tax misdeeds closer to the White House,while Democrats tried to keep the focus narrow and under the purview of an IRS chief appointed by President George W Bush.

Steven T Miller,the acting IRS commissioner who has resigned,called the agency’s actions “obnoxious”,but told the House Ways and Means Committee they were not motivated by partisanship. And in testy exchanges,he said he had not misled Congress,even though he did not divulge the targeting efforts of a Cincinnati unit examining 70,000 applications for tax exemption.

He called the group’s centralization of applications from groups with names that included the words “Tea Party” or “patriots” simply “foolish mistakes” that “were made by people trying to be more efficient in their workload selection.”

With two additional hearings already scheduled for next week,it is clear the focus of Congressional inquires will extend well beyond the selection of conservative groups for special scrutiny of their tax-exemption applications.

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